May 2, 2016
Our cabin overlooks Keene Creek Canyon, the view of further mountain slopes is through ponderosa, white fir, Douglas-fir and cedar. The elevation is somewhere uphill of 4500 feet. A bit downslope on the south-facing terrain the oaks are just beginning to put out leaves. In the forest nearby a few trillium hide beneath taller plants, mountain mahogany are sporting their soft creamy white blooms and a few scattered Oregon grape [Mahonia] are flowering. Their golden clusters of blossoms have made this evergreen shrub the state flower.
It’s 650AM and Nora the dog is up but sluggish with sleep. Steller’s Jays are scolding. A pair of Canada geese are honking loudly as they fly up the canyon in the direction of Keene Creek Reservoir. Close by a Flicker begins his volume-topping rattle call. A second Flicker answers with a few sharp “clear” calls. Not a peaceful forest at dawn.
Soon a Junco arrives to inspect a small brush pile of trimmed limbs. A few minutes later a Robin whinnies, once.
720AM A syncopated drumming indicates a Red-breasted Sapsucker. The jays continue to suffer sporadic spasms of “schuck-schuck-schucking” calls. I hear a Flicker drumming on a dead tree nearby. I find the drummer and a second Flicker flies to inspect the drumming site. As the morning continues I realize it is an excavation site. At 725AM I hear the high pure call note of a Mountain Quail. Directions: add to the morning air, repeat as needed. 732AM I hear the first Raven croak of the day. The Jays are now quiescent.
745AM A pair of Juncos forage around either side of the trunk of a large ponderosa. The male has a jet black head and dark back, his mate has more subdued coloring. They move not by scurrying but in hops like all sparrows. Downhill from our deck I can see other Juncos, one pair and then not far away a trio. All forage on the ground, as they nest there as well…in tufts or other concealed spots. It must work well as there are many Juncos. They out-number humans in North America, a good sign for nature.
Then I hear a triplet of slurred notes that can only be my first Western Tanager of the spring. This tropical migrant with his bright plumage must be newly returned. Today he awakens to a 45 degree morning. Could he possibly have flown in last night riding the winds?
Now I can clearly see the Flicker in the dead fir tree is excavating a nest hole. He or she is about a third of the way up the trunk of a 75-foot tall spar. At this point the hole is deep enough to hold the bird’s head and shoulders. This nest tree is about forty feet from the cabin where I stand. The flicker works steadily. Mountain Quail, unseen, continue to call.
830AM. The temperature is now up to 52 degrees as the sun warms this patch of Earth. This morning’s sky is a pale cerulean decorated with many cotton clouds of white and pale gray. The clouds seems to be painted onto a blue scrim. There is no apparent wind and nothing moves, neither cloud nor treetop nor air.
840AM A lone call from a Mountain Quail, not too far away. It’s been almost half an hour since the last call. 847AM The Flicker at the nest site is now tearing away a dangling beard of lichen from the tree’s trunk. The lichen is interfering with the construction work. I hear a few sharp honks from geese down in the valley. Perhaps they are in an unseeable meadow. Off to the northwest of the cabin I hear once the emphatic call of the Pileated Woodpecker, about eight notes that rise, then fall in volume. It is North America’s largest surviving woodpecker (sorry, Ivory-billed fans). The forest here is full of the Pileateds’ work. Some stumps bear numerous deep declevities drilled by his long beak and powerful chiseling. Beneath some holes you see the wood chips the size of a man’s finger littering the ground. The Pileateds’ perforations are oblong or oval, sometimes several inches deep. These holes speed the return of dead wood to soil.
848AM The Flicker ceases to chisel and departs. Hunger? Sore muscles? Head ache? Not likely, the Flicker’s brain is safely cradled in a fluid-filled sac, an especially evolved protection among woodpeckers the world over. Football players should be jealous.
857AM A Red-breasted Nuthatch begins tooting his little tin horn up in the canopy. I do not see him. He could be on the far side of any of dozens of tree trunks, or on top of some limb fifty feet overhead. This conifer forest is his chosen habitat hereabouts. His white-breasted cousin in this part of Oregon prefers the lower, dryer oak forest.
Nora the dog takes me on a walk. As soon as we step away from the cabin the jays adamantly express their hearty disapproval of our existence. As we move away, they subside. We head downslope toward the irrigation ditch. Its parallel maintenance road is a smooth and level hiking trail in a rugged and limb strewn area. It also offers occasional views of canyon or mountain slope through bordering trees. Right now the ditch runs full of water headed to lower reservoirs. Again the Canada Geese are in the air, honking as they fly. Then two Sandhill Cranes bugle several times. I can’t see them, perhaps they share the goose meadow below. This ancient crane music always pegs me to the spot.
I can do no better than quote Aldo Leopold when it comes to the calling of our Sandhill Cranes:
“A sense of time lies thick and heavy on such a place [as a crane marsh]. Yearly since the ice age it has wakened each spring to the clangor of cranes. The peat layers that comprise the bog are laid down in the basin of an ancient lake. The cranes stand, as it were, upon the sodden pages of their own history…Out on the bog a crane, gulping some luckless frog, springs his ungainly hulk into the air and flails the morning sun with mighty wings…
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.
“This much, though, can be said: our appreciation for the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills. When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”
Yes, crane music is a sound our hominid ancestors heard and recognized as they tracked the marshes and bogs of ages long past. Though most crane species are now endangered our own Sandhills are the world’s most populous, maybe half a million. As if the world’s whole population of humans were in Omaha.
On our walk Nora and I pass several pairs of Juncos. They note us be do not panic. Then we are treated to the flits and flutters of a brightly colored Yellow-rumped Warbler. Finally we hear that tanager song again, just uphill from the irrigation canal. The bright male perches on the outer edge of a cedar about thirty feet up, and sings. His orange head picks up some of the sunlight even in the shade were he perches. As we admire him another Mountain Quail calls at least a hundred yards away. Normally, as man and dog bumble through the forest and scrub, the Mountain Quail is forewarned and moves ever further from the danger perceived. But yesterday a friend and I were aided by the wind and the loud soughing of the conifers as we birded Hyatt Meadow. There we were unheard and surprised a pair of Mountain Quail feeding on the ground as usual. Even then they quickly fluttered into a near thicket and we got only fleeting glimpses.
The dog walk took us past many blooming wild strawberries, a pleasant promise for the local bears.
Nora and I pass a footbridge to an unoccupied cabin. A lizard speeds down the sunny wooden walkway and then tucks himself beneath the cabin’s wood siding when he reaches it. Smugly hidden he peeks out from beneath the bottom of a board to watch us.
1020AM Dog and man are back from the walk. The sun’s energy has raised the temperature to 60 degrees. Insects can be seen in the air. Most of the puffy clouds have dissipated. The sky is now a bolder blue than it was in dawn’s wan light.
11AM A few peremptory croaks from a Raven. There is a parking lot Raven here at Green Springs Inn. His favored perch is atop a fir where he takes up his sentinel post from which he monitors all activities around the café, the lodge, the dumpsters and the chicken coop.
1124AM Flicker is back working at the excavation which is now deep enough to hold the bird down to his navel, if he had one.
1215PM The Flicker now has the hole deep enough to hold all of his body save tail feathers. Soon he will leave off chiseling for the day.
A CRANE PICTURE FROM YESTERDAY
[some Leopold quotes: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/43828.Aldo_Leopold%5D